So the NY Times had an essay about all the adults reading young adult literature earlier this month. Big discussion. Why is this happening?
Personally, I took a break from reading altogether a few years back. But I'd also had two babies less than a year apart (brill!) and I rarely stopped moving.
Before then, I'd made a steady diet of Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, Anchee Min ... ZERO young adult.
I vividly recall the year 2000 when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out and that 600+ page YA novel made the news. I remember my graduate assistant was SO excited--she told me she and her physician Dad had been reading the series together.
I was astonished. "Really?" I asked. "But aren't those... kid books?"
These days I'm not just reading YA, I'm also writing it. So I'm doubly astonished.
Seriously, though. I think there are two very good reasons adults are flocking to the YA aisles in bookstores and online.
Reason #1: YA has just gotten really, really good!
I mean, when I was a YA, we had Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Francine Pascal. I'm just going to be honest with you. I loved all those books, but only one of the authors wrote fiction that would captivate an adult.
Which brings me to today's impromptu book review for Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl. I'm very late reading Stargirl. It also came out in 2000, and I can tell you, there's only one thing wrong with this tiny, 192-page novel.
Stargirl tells the story of a sweet, free-spirited girl who transfers from homeschool to public school in Arizona during her sophomore year. The main character, Leo, observes her throughout the story and ultimately develops a crush on her.
In the beginning, the student body is fascinated with her zany antics--Stargirl (aka, Susan Caraway) plays the ukelele, she sings happy birthday to students in the cafeteria, she has a pet mouse, she joins the cheerleading squad and cheers for both teams...
But as the story progresses, the students turn on her. And eventually she's shunned. Leo as her boyfriend is shunned as well and he sets about trying to change her to help her be accepted.
What transpires is absolutely heartbreaking to read, but ultimately it's not sad. The ending is actually positive. I give it a solid A, and I bet even male teenagers would like this book. But that's another topic for discussion.
Now I'm willing to bet most teen readers will have a different reaction to Stargirl than I did. They'll probaby view it the same way I did The Chocolate War--disturb the universe my butt. You can't act that way in high school and not expect a backlash.
Adult me read it and got the message of the retired professor in the book--every now and then someone comes along who's really special. Try not to miss it.
But that's my whole point with Reason #1. There's so much Kidlit now that's captivating for all ages. (It's gotten really, really good.)
There's also Reason #2: Escapism.
I'll admit, Stargirl isn't the type of YA book I immediately reach for. My 8 year-old wanted to read it, so I actually read it as a preview for her. (It's totally safe, Moms. There's no language or situations, but it is emotional.)
The young adult books I most enjoy reading are romantic, fast-paced and plot driven, and the stakes aren't too high. Which is what led me to my theory about escapism.
My sweet, book-devouring husband got a Barnes & Noble gift card recently. He went out last weekend and bought two books by Norman Mailer and Phillip Roth, and then he came at me with American Pastoral again.
Now I know JRM looks at me the way Alvy looked at Annie Hall with her cat book... But I read The Human Stain. I get it.
My adult life is complex and frustrating. It's also happy! But it's filled with enough difficulty that the last thing I want to do in my free time is sit around reading about some other adult's miserable life and poor choices.
I mean seriously.
It's far more relaxing (and entertaining) to grab Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side or Geek Charming and be swept away or giggle at silly stuff for a few hours. And I don't think that makes me any less deep or intelligent.
On that note, anyone who would argue adults reading The Hunger Games books are shallow or ignorant just isn't paying attention.
That's my two cents. I wonder if anyone else has a theory on this topic. I'd love to hear it.
Otherwise, have a great weekend, reader-writer friends. Remember, readers are leaders! So grab whatever style book you prefer and get lost~